The Quantum Thomist

Musings about quantum physics, classical philosophy, and the connection between the two.
Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 16: The Judges

Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 17: The early Monarchy
Last modified on Sun Jan 16 14:56:08 2022


This is the seventeenth post in a series on Victor Stenger's book God: The failed hypothesis. In his sixth chapter, The failures of revelation, Professor Stenger made a brief mention of Biblical archaeology, making the (rather common) claim that not only is there is no evidence for most of the Old Testament, but some parts of the Old Testament are directly contradicted by the archaeological evidence. My intention is to answer this criticism, or at least give hints as to how it might be answered.

The first post in this mini-series gave a general introduction to the topic of Old Testament archaeology as a whole. The subsequent posts discuss individual periods and topics. This post will discuss the early monarchy period; that is the time of Saul, David, Solomon and their immediate successors up until Omri and Asa. My goal is not to prove the Biblical account from archaeology, but to ask if Professor Stenger is successful in saying that there are contradictions between the Biblical account and the archaeological record. In particular, we need to bear in mind that archaeological evidence is still very fragmentary and incomplete. There are periods of history and places about which we know a lot, but other periods and places where we still know very little, and people try to construct elaborate theories on the basis of insufficient evidence. This period is one of those times were there is very little evidence one way or the other. The later part of the monarchy period is very different, with abundant evidence

First of all, an outline of the Biblical story. It is described in depth in the books of Samuel, 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. The Israelites had by now been living as tribal units under Judges for some four hundred years. There was no central authority; they had the Law of Moses and interpreted it as best they could in each local community, and a central place of worship at Shiloh. Now, however, the Philistines were established in the coastal plain, and were starting to expand into the hill country where the Israelites lived. In particular, one battle led to the capture of the ark of the covenant by the Philistines and (as the archaeological evidence and hints in Jeremiah and the Psalms testify) the destruction of the sanctuary at Shiloh. On the other side of the country, the Ammonites were also causing problems. The Kingdoms of Aram in the North are a looming threat. The Israelites were fed up of losing to the Philistines, and decided that the source of their problems was that they didn't have a single ruler, a King, to lead their armies and govern the country, as all their enemies had. They wanted to be like the other nations. So they went to the Prophet Samuel, and requested that he appoint a King over them. Samuel reluctantly acquiesced, and selected one Saul son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. This choice disappointed many people, but they were won over once Saul started winning battles. Saul established the Israelites as a regional power rather than a confederation of defeated scattered tribes.

Saul, however, grew proud and arrogant (and was tormented by an evil spirit), and alienated Samuel and many of the people of Israel. He was not faithful to God's commands, and took upon himself the role of offering sacrifice, which should have been reserved for the priests. Samuel then went out to anoint in secret a successor, David son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. David, who, despite a few indiscretions, remained devoted to the Israelite God all his life, soon found himself in Saul's service, and quickly won renown as a successful and popular general. He married Saul's daughter, and entered into a close friendship with Saul's son. Saul grew jealous of David's success and popularity, and David was forced to flee the court. David spent time living in the wilderness pursued by Saul, and eventually even went to live among the Philistines.

Saul and most of his sons were soon killed in battle against the Philistines. The Israelites briefly fell into a period of civil war. The tribe of Judah proclaimed David as their King. The rest of the Israelites followed Saul's son Ishbaal. As the tide turned towards David, Ishbaal was murdered by his household servants, and David was proclaimed King over all Israel. His first task was to capture the city of Jerusalem, in Jebusite hands since before the time of Joshua, and turn it into his capital city. He brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, and established the city as the religious as well as the political capital of Israel.

David proved to be a formidable leader. He subdued the Philistines, Amalekites, Moab and Edom, and any remaining Canaanite strongholds in the land. The foreigners were forced to pay tribute to him. A conflict with Ammon drew in the Syrians, and David defeated them and placed garrisons and took tribute up until the river Euphrates in Syria. Phonecia and Hamath were his close allies, leaving David and the Israelites in charge of a small Empire.

The last years of David's rule were plagued with various rebellions, including from David's son Absalom. (David's family was rather dysfunctional -- he was a successful King but not a good father.) David overcame these, and died of old age with his son Solomon established as his successor.

The start of Solomon's reign was peaceful and very prosperous. He built the temple just outside David's Jerusalem to house the ark of the covenant, and maintained David's Empire. However, in his last years, he started falling away from true worship -- led by his multitude of foreign wives -- and became more oppressive.

Solomon died and was succeeded by his son Rehoboam, a rather hot-headed fellow who had let his position go to his head. The Northern tribes rebelled against him, led by a former official of Solomon named Jeroboam, leaving Rehoboam with just Judah, and Benjamin, as well as a portion of the Levites and presumably at least some of the tribe of Simeon, who were originally given an enclave of land within Judah. The split into the Kingdom of Israel in the North and the Kingdom of Judah in the South became permanent. At this point, the Empire in Syria collapsed. Jeroboam, afraid that his people would defect to Judah if they continued to worship in Jerusalem, established shrines in Bethel and Dan, setting up golden images of cows for them to worship. Later Israelite Kings would start worshipping the Canaanite dieties, primarily Baal and Ashteroth. The Kings of Judah were more mixed, with some following Yahweh, others the Baals, and others hedged their bets between the two. Jeroboam set up his capital in Tirzah.

Rehoboam's Jerusalem was soon attacked and ransacked by Shishak of Egypt; the wealth of Solomon carried away to the land of the Pharoahs. Rehoboam's descendants continued to rule in Jerusalem, and did little of note except have conflicts with Israel. The Northern Kingdom was a bit more unstable. Jerobaom's son was assassinated by Baasha; Baasha's son was killed in a military uprising, which eventually led to Omri, commander of the army, being crowned King of Israel. That is when I will end the discussion of this post.

The sceptic's view

I'll start with Professor Stenger, because I am (in principle at least) reviewing his book. His treatment is brief:

  1. There is no mention of David and Solomon's empire in Egyptian or Mesopotamian records.
  2. The Tell Dan stele could have been a forgery, and even if not it doesn't prove anything.
  3. There are no remains of Solomon's temple or grand building projects in Jerusalem. However, there are plenty of remains from the Middle Bronze Age or the Iron Age, suggesting that this wasn't due to remains being cleared away due to later building projects.

I should briefly comment on the importance of the Tell Dan stele. This was an inscription found at Dan written by a Syrian King. It records a victory over the King of Israel and the King of the house of David shortly after the time of King Ahab. The stele was damaged and re-used in later construction; and uncovered by the excavators in that context in 1993. I am not aware of anyone who seriously considers it a forgery. As one of our earliest extra-Biblical references to David, it is seen as being of importance as one of the few examples of writing from the region.

Before 1993, minimalists were saying that David never existed; that the accounts of his reign were a fiction. Then the Tell-Dan stele was discovered, and they had to backtrack to the position held by Professor Finkelstein: yes, he existed, but wasn't a person of any real importance. So the stele was significant because it disproved the minimalist narrative of the time. It demonstrates yet again that, especially in Biblical archaeology where the evidence is thin on the ground in any case, you ought not jump to conclusions based on an absence of evidence. You should base your conclusions on the actual evidence, and where there is nothing positive or negative about a person, Kingdom or event simply say "I don't know," and wait for some evidence to come in. Just because there is no evidence today doesn't mean that there will be no evidence tomorrow. The Tell Dan stele also establishes that David established a dynasty which was still in power a century and a half later, and that David was a significant enough figure to be remembered and mentioned by name by the Syrian King (rather than simply referring to Judah's King as the King of Judah or the King in Jerusalem as he did with the King of Israel.)

Professor Stenger's third point also misses the point. You can only find things if you excavate. You can only excavate if you first tear down what is currently built on the site. In 691 AD, the invading Arab armies built a mosque on what was the site of the first and second temples. The Mosque, on the holiest site in Judaism and with inscriptions denigrating Christianity, was intended to demonstrate in physical form Islam's supposed superiority over Judaism and Christianity. That site, the compound around it, and the second mosque in the compound is just a little bit politically sensitive. So we are not going to find direct evidence for the temple because we can't excavate the temple mount where it was built.

Actually, that last paragraph isn't quite true. In 1999, the Islamic authorities conducted renovations on the foundations of the temple mount. As part of that work, they dug up a lot of dirt and from the ground, and dumped it outside the compound. In 2005, the temple mount sifting project was granted permission to work through that dump pile, and see what they could find. This isn't as good as an archaeological excavation, because any hint of the stratigraphy is lost, you are not going to discover the actual buildings, and it was in a relatively unimportant corner of the compound, but it still gives some data. To quote from the project's website:

The finds are dated mainly to the First Temple Period and onwards (10th century BCE till today). There are some finds from earlier periods, but they are scarce. In addition to these general categories, there are numerous finds of many kinds: fragments of stone vessels, approximately 5,000 ancient coins, various pieces of jewellery, a rich assortment of beads, terracotta figurines, arrowheads and other weaponry, weights, items of clothing, game pieces and dice, bone and shell inlays, furniture decorations, ornaments, bone tools, etc. Fragments of elaborate architectural members from buildings, among them pillars, architraves, mosaic floors, opus sectile tiles (see below), coloured wall plaster (fresco), and glazed wall tiles.

They have also found an inscription naming a priest also mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. In other words, it is not as much as we would want, but it is likely the best evidence we are going to get. It doesn't prove the existence of the temple, but it shows that the site was occupied and used from the time of Solomon onwards, which is as much as we can expect it to do.

As for evidence in the city of David -- that too had barely been excavated at the time when Professor Stenger was writing. You are not going to find anything if you don't excavate.

As to the first objection, that is again an argument from silence and thus, on the face of it, invalid. I'll discuss that in more detail below.

So if the amateur can't present a valid case, how will the professionals of Finkelstein and Silberman fare?

The Bible Unearthed is one of the main minimalist texts, and, as it was Professor Stenger's primary source, I am using it in this series as the main antagonist to my own views. The period of David and Solomon is discussed in their chapter 5.

They describe how archaeologists initially believed that the time of David was one of the first periods that could be clearly attested as historical. This was partly due to the detailed and realistic description in the books of Samuel, and partly to destruction layers in Philistine and Canaanite cities marking David's conquests, and similar monumental architecture found at the sites where Solomon was recorded to be active. But, Finkelstein claims, this story came to be doubted.

  1. No evidence at Jerusalem confirms that it was a great city in David or Solomon's time. It is responded that it could have been removed by later building projects. Excavations in Jerusalem in the 1970s and 1980s failed to find any archaeological remains from the time of David and Solomon, either in the city of David or elsewhere in the city. There were impressive finds from the Middle Bronze Age or later in the Iron Age, but not the time of David.
  2. The monuments connected to Solomon could be ascribed to other Kings.
  3. The details of Solomon's wealth are too exaggerated to be true.
  4. David and Solomon are not mentioned in an Egyptian or Mesopotamian text. (However, this was a period when Egypt and Mesopotamia were in decline.)
  5. The mention of David in the Tell Dan and Mesha stele confirms his existence, but does little more than that.
  6. Surveys have indicated that there doesn't seem to be any drastic change in the architecture or way of life in the Israelite highlands, or the Canaanite lowlands. No sign of grand-scale building in Megiddo, Hazor or Gezer. David's conquests would require organisation, manpower and armour. Judah is an isolated terrain of rugged hills and unpredictable rainfall, and isolated from the rest of the land. Only a handful of permanent settlements developed in Judah. Judah remained a backwards province up to the time of David and Solomon, even as Israel began to develop in the North.
  7. Burn layers have been found in many Philistine and Jezreel valley cities. These were attributed to David's conquests. However, there is no evidence that David was responsible, and it is most unlikely an insignificant hill-country tribe could have caused this much damage.
  8. Excavations at Megiddo revealed extensive Iron Age remains, which were attributed to Solomon. Architecture built in the same style was uncovered at Hazor and Gezer -- the other two sites described as being rebuilt by Solomon. However, the closest Syrian parallels to these structures appear half a century later than the time of Solomon. In particular, Professor Finkelstein argues that the Philistine pottery used to date the destruction layers attributed to David continued well into the tenth century, and that pottery from the gates indicates that they date to the ninth century. Radiocarbon dating also confirms this, based on charcoal from the burn layers attributed to David.

With all this, Finkelstein concludes that Judah was an impoverished backwater with few settlements and none of significance; Jerusalem little more than a hilltop village. David's great conquests were a fiction, written at a time when Judah was more prosperous.

So how to respond to this?

Firstly, there was something that Professor Finkelstein didn't emphasise as much as he ought to have done. He is best known in archaeological circles (apart, perhaps for his particular model of how the Israelites put together the Bible and his excellent work in excavations) for a revised Iron Age chronology. Professor Finkelstein assumes this chronology throughout his presentation. However his revision is not widely accepted outside his own circles. There is plenty of evidence against it. Using the more widely accepted pottery chronology, the destruction layers date to the time of David, the monumental architecture to the time of Solomon, and the evidence which Professor Finkelstein presents to the late Judges period, when Judah was indeed as small, out of the way, backwater. So without his revised Iron Age Chronology, Professor Finkelstein's whole argument falls apart.

The main reason for Professor Finkelstein's redating was the absence of Philistine pottery at various non-Philistine sites. Lachish Stratum VI and Tel Sera Stratum IX are linked to the reign of Ramesses III by inscriptions. Conventionally, the Philistines were settling in the coastal plain at about the same time. However, since no Philistine pottery was found in Lachish VI or Tel Sera IX, Professor Finkelstein proposed that the arrival of the Philistine pottery types should be dated to after these phases, pushing them back by half a century. This would correspond to a third wave of sea peoples at about 1140BC, attested to in no ancient source. This creates a ripple effect where all the archaeological phases are dated from half a century to seventy years after the conventional dates. The destruction layers attributed to David's conquests are re-attributed to Pharaoh Shoshenq I, and so on. The monumental architecture usually attributed to Solomon would be dated to the time of Ahab. Everything between Ahab and the Assyrian conquest is then compressed.

Professor Finkelstein's whole argument is thus based on his incredulity that the Philistines might be using one type of pottery, and the Israelites or Canaanites in Lachish another. However, these were rivals and enemies. There would not have been any trade between them, and this was before the main Philistine attempts to expand into the hill country.

If there was a new Philistine invasion in 1140, it would have focused only on the coastal plain of Southern Canaan. There is no mention of it in Egyptian records, nor in Carchemesh. Tyre and Sidon continued to rebuild after the 1180 attack unmolested. Equally, it would lead to a gap in the occupation of the Philistine towns, when the evidence is that the Philistines settled immediately. The last Canaanite pottery marks the end of the Late Bronze Age, around 1200BC or at most one or two decades later. Parts of the Canaanite city were destroyed in fire. The next layer, with no occupation gap, has Philistine pottery. The conclusion is that the Philistines arrived, with their distinctive pottery, right at the start of the Iron Age, which is consistent with the 1180BC date when they battled Ramesses III, but not a 1140BC date well into IA1. Kitchen (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, chapter 4) reports that this pattern was found at Ashkelon, Ekron, and Ashdod. More recent excavations at Gath have shown a similar pattern. The Philistines arrived with their pottery at the start of IA1, at about 1200 BC within a few decades.

The phenomena of new pottery types being localised are well known in other contexts; Kitchen cites examples from the Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age. It frequently occurs when there is a clear cultural boundary.

It is also notable that Lachish VI and Tel Sera IX were destroyed by fire, with Lachish not settled, and the next level at Tel Sera displaying Philistine pottery. So it seems as though the Philistines subsequently expanded into the hill country, and took their pottery with them.

So Finkelstein's redating doesn't resolve any problems at the start of the Iron Age, because there are no problems to resolve. But it creates problems at the end of the Iron Age, since it tries to squeeze too much occupation in too little time, at Hazor, Rehob and other sites.

Finally, Professor Finkelstein described how certain pottery types continued in use beyond the time of David and Solomon. This doesn't deny that they were widely used at the time of David and Solomon; it is not evidence for redating the remains.

The Pharoah Shoshenq I recorded a substantial campaign in Israel in 925BC. He left us with an extensive list of cities he captured or destroyed. In the conventional Iron Age chronology, there are various destruction layers at a time consistent with Shoshenq's campaign, for example at Gezer, Shechem and Tanaach. Before this destruction layer, the sites had rapidly expanded from small villages to major towns and cities. However, in Professor Finkelstein's revised chronology, the destruction layer and start of the occupation has to be re-dated by fifty to seventy years. In other words, Shoshenq I would have campaigned before the sites were at most small villages. He would have campaigned against cities which weren't there. In other words, there is strong archaeological evidence against Professor Finkelstein's revised chronology and in favour of the standard Iron Age chronology.

In summary, Professor Finkelstein's presentation is too dependent on his revision of Iron Age chronology to be useful. He has not proved that the "Davidic" destruction levels were not caused by David, not that the "Solomonic" cities were not built by Solomon. All he has done is offer an alternative hypothesis, that they were from a time a century or so later. The evidence, however, seems to be against his hypothesis; but while a case can be made for the traditional dating the Biblical account is not disproved.

Evidence for David.

Before 1990, it was widely proposed by sceptics that King David was a myth. Then a few discoveries changed that. None of these were from the time of David, but all refer, or possibly refer, to him.

Firstly, there was the Tell Dan Stele. Several fragments of this were found in a disturbed context. It is an inscription carved into a stone slab which was erected by a King of Aram (Syria). The inscription describes the King's victory over Jehoram (or Joram), King of Israel, and the King of the House of David.

A few years later, a second reference to the House of David was found. This was on the Mesha stele, recording how King Mesha of Moab managed to win independence for his country from the King of Israel, the son of Omri. This tells the other side of the story recorded in 2 Kings 3. The stele was discovered in the 19th century, but various partially damaged sections were re-examined in the 1990s, and at least one reference to David was proposed in the stele. As he recounts his victories, Mesha records taking territory held by the house of David. This reconstruction is widely, but not universally, accepted, and there aren't really any reasonable alternatives.

The third reference is perhaps a little more uncertain. Kenneth Kitchen claimed to have found a reference to the "heights of David" in the campaign list of Shoshenq I (biblical Shishak).

These references establish that a) David existed. b) He was a ruler in the area of Israel. c) He established a dynasty that continued at least until the time of Ahab and Jehoram. d) He was well-enough known that his dynasty was referred to as the "House of David" rather than Judah. They don't prove any more than that.

As such, the Biblical minimalists from the 1990s and 2000s conceded that David existed, but claimed that he was little more than a chieftain of a hilltop village, and not the great conquering ruler portrayed in the Old Testament. Commonly cited reasons to deny David's power are firstly that Israel at the time of the united monarchy seems to have a fairly impoverished place with no real indications of public buildings or central organisation; secondly that Jerusalem did not seem to contain any large public structures which you would expect from the capital of an expanding empire (and which David is said to have constructed in the Biblical text); and thirdly there is no mention of David's conquests in contemporary Egyptian or Assyrian records. All of these are arguments from silence, and thus should not be considered definitive. The first of these objections also depends in part on Finkelstein's dubious redating of the Iron Age. The problem with arguments from silence is that they can easily be overturned when new positive evidence is uncovered. You would have thought that the minimalists would have learnt that lesson when the Tell Dan stele was uncovered, but it seems that they didn't.

In recent years, new evidence has emerged. Firstly, there are the excavations at Khirbet Qeifaya. This was a small fortress on the border between Israel and the Philistines. It is located in the valley of Elah, where the book of Samuel places David's victory over Goliath. The fortress was only occupied for a few decades, around the time of either Saul or David. The pottery, architecture and animal bones indicate that this fortress was Israelite. The fortress was not an established town, but shows all the signs of being a a small military outpost maintained by a larger Kingdom. The most important discovery from Khirbet Qeifaya was an inscription on a shard of pottery. The inscription is written in Hebrew. It emphasises the need to support widows, orphans and strangers, reminiscent of numerous Old Testament passages going back to the Mosaic law. It also references a King who had jurisdiction over the land. According to one translation, this King was established by the men and officers, presumably recently. This shows that there was a King over the Israelites at the time of David and Saul, whose jurisdiction extended at least as far as the valley of Elah. It also shows that there was enough literacy at the time that some random Israelite in an isolated outpost was able to write a short text about supporting the poor and disadvantaged on a shard of pottery.

A second piece of evidence was found in the Timna copper mines in Edom. These had been active centuries earlier. For example, the New Kingdom Egyptians used the mines. However, new excavations found that there was also a presence there during the early IA2, the time of David and Solomon. This presence was not Egyptian. There are no Egyptian remains, and at the time, Egypt was divided and weak and unable to mount an expedition at that distance. The Timmah mines are isolated in the desert, and it needs a centralised authority and substantial organisation to support a community there (to transport food to the mines and copper back). It is not something which a hilltop chieftain could achieve. The mines show a sophisticated organisation, with substantial buildings and defensive structures. The food residues found there, fruit, grain and fish, originated from the Mediterranean region (i.e. Israel), and some textiles have been found dyed with a rare purple dye also associated with the Mediterranean. The site was abandoned after about a century of use. The excavators attribute this abandonment to the after-effects of Shoshenq I's campaign. There is no direct evidence that this site was Israelite, baring some hints from the architecture, but it is evidence that there was a powerful non-Egyptian kingdom in the Southern Levant at the time of David and Solomon, which both controlled that part of Edom and had at the very least strong trading links with Israel, since that is where the food was imported from.

In the past few years, there have been new excavations in the "City of David" region in Jerusalem, South of the Temple Mount. These excavations, led by Eilat Mazar, uncovered a large public building which was built in the early IA2 period (late IA1 pottery was found beneath the floor; early IA2 pottery found above it), just outside the walls of the Late Bronze and IA1 city. The building was much larger than a standard house, with walls up to 7m thick. There were also ivories and pottery found from 10th century Phonecia and Cyprus. The building continued in use until the destruction of Jerusalem, and various seal inscriptions show that later Kings of Judah used this building for administration. The excavators associate this building with David's palace. While this association can be disputed, the building was nonetheless a large public administration building; the sort that is needed in an extensive Kingdom. Its construction shows that the ruler of Jerusalem at the time of David had greater needs than those of just a hilltop chieftain. It also shows that the ruler of Jerusalem at the time was, unlike his predecessors, wealthy enough to build a large palace or administrative building. Some remnants of city walls from the same period have also been discovered.

At the time of Saul and David, both Egypt and Assyria were weak, and had retreated to within their borders. The New Kingdom in Egypt had collapsed, and the land was divided between several squabbling rulers. The Middle Assyrian Empire had collapsed at the end of the Late Bronze Age, and by the time of King Saul Assyria only controlled its own lands. The neo-Assryian Empire only began to reassert its dominance after the time of Solomon. The Hittite Empire had collapsed at the end of the Late Bronze Age, and would not rise again. Thus during the time of Saul, David and Solomon there was something of a power-vacuum in Israel and Syria. All the great powers of the Late Bronze Age were in retreat. In other words, the Bible sets David's Empire at the one moment in history when it could have existed. In the early Iron Age 1, other small Kingdoms such as Carchemish established similar a small but brief rule over a larger region in Syria. Like David's Empire, this rule more consisted of taking tribute and close alliances with puppet rulers rather than direct rule. They were, consequently, somewhat unstable. Small garrisons would have been placed in key locations to collect tribute and report any local trouble. There is therefore nothing unusual about David doing something similar in early IA2. Equally, this arrangement would not have left any archaeological evidence behind (unless a written source is discovered) in Israel's vassals in Aram. The cities in Aram would have been inhabited by the same people, using their existing buildings and the same pottery, and worshipping the same gods. The Empire was too brief to have any lasting cultural impact.

It is true that there are no direct textual references to David's Empire. There are no records to what was happening in Israel and Syria of any sort. The surviving records from Egypt, Assyria, Byblos and Carchemish only relate to their internal affairs. No records survive from Tyre and Sidon in this period. What evidence we have suggests that the Israelites used Papyrus for their administration and to record their history, which cannot be expected to survive to our time in the climate of Israel. They did not leave behind any monumental inscriptions. Thus we would consider ourselves lucky to have any contemporary textual references to David's Empire.

However, Kenneth Kitchen in his Reliability of the Old Testament reports on one Assyrian inscription of interest. "At the time of Assur-rabi, King of Assyria (1013-972BC), the king of the land of Arumu took by force Pethor and Mutkinu." Pethor and Mutkinu are two cities close to the Euphrates river. Arumu references Aram, the ancient and Biblical name for Syria. What this shows was that there was at this time a powerful ruler in Syria, capable of conquering cities within the Assyrian sphere of influence. Within a Biblical context, this could be a reference to David, or (perhaps more likely) his rival Hadadezer of Aram-Zobah. David's rule to the Euphrates river was established after he defeated Hadadezer and forced his lands into tribute.

Finally, I should note that the name "Goliath," David's most famous adversary, has been discovered in a Philistine text. While it is not likely to refer to either of the giants described in the book of Samuel, it does show that the name was used by the right people in roughly the right time.

This evidence is all circumstantial. We know that the House of David ruled from Jerusalem. We know that Jerusalem was expanded at the time of David, and a possible palace or large administrative centre built. We know (from the Khirbet Qeifaya inscription) that at least some of the Israelites had a King, who ruled over at least Southern Israel towards the borders of the Philistines. We know that there was a substantial and sophisticated state in the region and with close connections to Israelite agriculture and fishing able to re-establish the copper mines in the Southern desert at Timna. We know that there was a power vacuum between the great powers at the time, and room for one of the local rulers to establish their own little empire. We know that Philistine influence and their distinctiveness declined from the IA2 period. We know that later on there were two Israelite Kingdoms, who had control over Moab and were regional powers. And that is all the information we have. There is nothing inconsistent with the Biblical account.

Evidence for Solomon.

1 Kings 9:17 records that Pharaoh had captured the city of Gezer, burnt it, and gave it to Solomon as dowry for his wife. The 21st dynasty Pharaoh at the time of Solomon was Siamun. Siamun left an inscription in Tanis celebrating a military victory. Kitchen claims that the picture alongside the inscription shows his defeated opponents yielding Canaanite weapons, although this is disputed by other scholars. I am not completely convinced by this link. Gezer has several destruction layers. There is one at the end of IA2a, which is a little too late for Solomon and usually attributed to Shoshenq I. This is after the construction of the Solomonic gate. The previous destruction layer is between IA1b and IA1c, which is too early for Solomon, and probably around or just before the time of King Saul. There is no evidence I am aware of that the Egyptians controlled the city in IA1c and the earliest phase of IA2 (aside from a 21st dynasty seal in the destruction layer), but equally no evidence that they didn't. There are several archaeological phases between this burn layer and the construction of Solomon's gate and city. Unless the burn layer associated with Siamun's hypothesised campaign was missed by the excavators, if the Biblical story is accurate, it seems like Gezer would have been captured by an earlier 21st dynasty Pharaoh, and given to Solomon by either Siamun or Psusennes. It was not uncommon for Third Intermediate period Pharaoh's to wed their daughters to foreign rulers. Thus one of these Pharaohs could well have provided Solomon with his wife.

Solomon is recorded as producing building works in various cities. Best known is the temple of Jerusalem, with its accompanying palace. These lie under an Islamic shrine and cannot be excavated without causing a billion or so people to erupt in anger. However, the plan of the temple and palace and their architectural style and furnishings are consistent with Phonecian and other designs of the era. Other building works recorded in the text were at Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor. All three cities were rebuilt during the early IA2 period, in similar architectural styles. A lot is made of the almost identical 6-chamber gates found at each city.

Following its destruction at the end of the LB2 period (probably at the hands of Deborah and Barak), Hazor was largely abandoned until the IA2 period, with at most a small village on the site in IA1. Towards the start of IA2, the city was extensively rebuilt, with extensive fortifications and large buildings. This city plan remained in place until the time of Ahab. These building works used large cut stones; three layers of stones followed by one layer of wood (c.f. 1 Kings 6:36).

The site of Megiddo is messier. There is a similar six chamber gate as seen at Hazor and Gezer, but the city was substantially rebuilt under Omri and Ahab destroying much of the earlier remains. However, there does seem to have been a substantial redevelopment of the city at the time of the six-chamber gate, early IA2. Immediately before this period, the city had some modest domestic buildings and limited large public buildings. The rebuild of the city in stratum VA established new impressive buildings, and redesigned fortifications and a new water system.

Cannanite Gezer was destroyed towards the end of IA1. The city was then left in an relatively undeveloped state until the early IA2. At this point, there was a significant building project, with new fortifications and large public buildings, constructed in the same style as those from Hazor. This city was soon after burnt to the ground,.

The obvious implication is that all three sites were rebuilt at the same time by a centralised authority. Before this rebuilding they were undeveloped and sparsely inhabited; afterwards they were major administrative centres. With the destruction layer at Gezer following the rebuild attributed to Shoshenq I, and the pottery implying early IA2, there is no good reason not to attribute these works to Solomon.

Other sites which are associated with Solomon's building work are less well known: Beth-Horon, Baalath and Tamar in the South and Hamath and Tadmor in the North. I haven't been able to find much information on these sites. Why are there so few building works attributed to such a great King? David was too busy conquering the empire and establishing the Kingdom to spend much time on building works. His successor concentrated on his capital city and built a few key administrative centres. He did not have the time or resources to do more than that. No doubt his successors would have expanded this work further had the Empire not collapsed shortly after Solomon's death. This pattern was seen in other ancient states. It is not usually the founder (by military conquest) of the empire who produces the most significant buildings, but his successors.

Otherwise, numerous early IA2 sites, from small villages to walled towns, have been found throughout Israel. These are just the sites known from the limited surveys and excavations that have been carried out: we ought to expect plenty more so far unknown.

The wealth of Solomon (at his height, he earned an annual income of 666 talents of gold) is not out of place in an ancient context. It would have been carried away from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel by the later Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, leaving no archaeological trace. The amount of gold given to Solomon is not unusual. For example, 150 talents of gold was given by Metten II of Tyre to Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria, more than the 120 talents given by Metten's predecessor to Solomon. In Egypt, Osorkon I of the 22nd dynasty -- whose father Shoshenq had ransacked Rehoboam's Jerusalem -- donated over ten thousand talents of gold to the temples of Egypt in the first years of his reign. In other words, similar amounts of gold as recorded in the Biblical texts and associated with Solomon were not unknown in the ancient world. The major powers -- the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Persians had considerably more that Solomon was able to accumulate in his reign, and even smaller powers such as Tyre traded in similar amounts.


The united monarchy fell with Solomon's son Rehoboam. The Northern Tribes of Israel felt neglected under Solomon, and when Rehoboam promised to increase their burden, they rebelled against him, appointing Jeroboam, a former official of Solomon, as their King. Rehoboam was left with the tribes of Judah, and Benjamin, with scattered members of the other tribes such as Simeon, Joseph and Levi. When Jeroboam set up idols at Bethel and Dan in place of the Jerusalem temple worship, a number of Israelites defected to Judah. There was a state of civil war between the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah for many years. This weakened the Israelite nation. The Syrian Empire seems to have broken away immediately, and the Kingdom of Aram based in Damascus would be Israel's fiercest opponent for the next generations. It seems as though Israel and Judah between them maintained control over Moab and Edom for a while, until they too rebelled. The remnants of the Philistines also began to reassert their independence.

Early in the reign of Rehoboam, there was another disaster. Shishak, King of Egypt, invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and came up against Jerusalem. He either captured the city or Rehoboam was forced to pay a massive tribute (probably the latter given the account in Chronicles). 1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12 talk about all the treasures of Jerusalem being carried away.

Egypt at the time of the Israelite monarchy was in its third intermediate period. The country was divided between several competing dynasties, all of them, by Egyptian standards, relatively weak. They did not engage in foreign expeditions, in general, and certainly not into the Levant. There were, however, one possible and one definite exception to this rule. The possible exception was Siamun of the 21st dynasty. The definite exception was Shoshenq I, founder of the 22nd dynasty. Shoshenq left an inscription at Karnak describing a campaign into Israel in his twentieth year. The inscription, though damaged in places, lists the cities that Shoshenq attacked -- standard Egyptian practice. Other data from Shoshenq's reign shows that his army consisted of Egyptians, Libyans, Nubians and Sukkiyim -- matching the account of 2 Chronicles 12:3. This campaign is usually regarded as the one recorded against Rehoboam. The dates of Shoshenq line up with those of Rehoboam, and there is a distinct similarity in the names. The one caveat is that the Biblical account just mentions an attack on Judah (Shoshenq captured the cities of Judah), while Shoshenq's campaign list is broader than this, with cities attacked in Israel and the Negev. I am not aware that Jerusalem itself is mentioned on the list, although it could be on the damaged section, or it might of been omitted if (as implied by 2 Chronicles) Jerusalem was not captured but merely offered tribute to keep the Egyptians away. A Stele marking Shoshenq I's campaign was found at Megiddo.

It is generally agreed that Shoshenq's inscription offers the Egyptian account describing the same events as in this segment of the books of Chronicles and Kings.


Hebron was David's first capital, before he conquered Jerusalem. Excavations at Tell Rumeideh have found remains from throughout the Iron Age, where it seems to have been a prosperous and important town.


Bethel was an important city in the new Kingdom of Israel, as one of its major religious shrines, established with Jeroboam. Bethel is usually associated with Beitin, which was excavated between the 1930s and the 1960s by Albright and Kelso. I have conflicting reports about these excavations. My primary source (Negev and Gibson's Archeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land) states that the impoverished IA1 city was fortified from the 10th century, and continued as an important site until the Babylonian Invasion in the 6th century. Jeroboam's sanctuary was not discovered, but could have been missed by the excavators. There also seems to have been a very limited modern excavation nearby in 2011.

However other writers (I have seen articles from Finkelstein and Wood) suggest that few remains were found during the early IA2 period corresponding to the time of Jeroboam. This view is also supported by Dever. The main source for this conclusion seems to be a re-evaluation of Kelso's excavation report by Finkelstein, who casts doubt on the methodology of the excavations and in particular how they are presented in the final report. Finkelstein is a minimalist uses this as evidence against the Biblical account. Wood instead seeks to identify Bethel with a different site, el-Bira, where a surface survey shows a great deal of IA2 pottery. Wood identifies Beiten with the nearby town of Beth-Aven. There is some Biblical justification for this re-attribution. In Joshua 7:2, Ai (for which Khirbet el-Maqatir is the best candidate) is described as being Near Beth-Aven and East of Bethel suggesting that it is closer to Beth-Aven. It lies to the North-East of el-Bira and South-East of Beiten, but is considerably closer to Beiten. There are no other reasonable candidates for Beth-Aven. However, Livingstone and Wood's proposal, while it cannot be ruled out, is not widely accepted.

Looking over the excavation report for Beitin is not informative for me: I am not qualified to judge. The excavators claim that certain buildings and finds date to early IA2, the time of Jeroboam. They only provide a limited survey of the IA2 pottery, mostly saying that their finds add little new information to the classification developed by Albright at Tell Beit Mirsam. In particular, they don't publish all their pottery finds, so it could well be that their analysis of an early IA2 occupation depended on pottery not sketched out in the report, which would lead any re-evaluation based on that report astray. I am, however, more inclined to trust the modern evaluations of the evidence that there was a gap in the occupation in early IA2.

So the situation at Bethel is confusing, mainly due to the limited excavations early in the time-span of Biblical archaeology, and the poorly written excavation report. Options seem to be 1) There is a discrepancy between the evidence and the Biblical account. 2) The modern scholars were incorrect in their assessment that early IA2 was missing from the record, or this pottery was found but not published in the report deceiving them. 3) Early IA2 levels were either missed by the excavators, or destroyed by later activity on the site. 4) Bethel should be located elsewhere, perhaps at el-Birah.

So the situation isn't great for Jeroboam's shrine, but the evidence isn't completely clear cut and not strong enough to rule it out.


In contrast to Bethel, the situation at Tell-Dan is clear and uncontroversial (aside from Finkelstein's attempt to redate the Iron Age evidence). The city was occupied by Canaanites from the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Late Bronze Age. A new population, with typical Israelite pottery, moved in towards the start of the Iron Age. (The tribe of Dan's conquest of the city and migration to it occurred at some point during the Judges period, after Joshua's conquest.) This city continued to prosper during IA1. The remains of a cultic high place dating from about the time of Jeroboam have been found. The city continued to be developed and expanded during IA2 and the period of the monarchy, until the time of the Assyrian conquest.


Mahanaim was the city which Ishbaal briefly ruled from. It is also mentioned in Joshua's city list, assigned to Gad, and later on in the story of David when he flees there to escape his son Absolom. The city is also mentioned in Shoshenq I's campaign list. It is tentatively identified with Tulul adh-Dhahab. The sites have been excavated since 2005. They are badly damaged, but remains have been found suggesting that the city was an important site from the late Bronze Age through to the IA2 period. In particular, remains have been found from the time of David. The site later seemed to gain some cultic significance. This is consistent with the Biblical account.


Tirzah was the first capital of the Northern Kingdom. In the Bible, it is mentioned in Joshua's account, 1 and second Kings, and the Song of Solomon. It is usually identified with Tell Farah. There was a substantial Middle Bronze Age city, which continued to be occupied until early in the LB2 period. The city was then refounded towards the end of IA1. Various 9th century houses were left in an incomplete state, which is taken as evidence of the movement of the capital from Tirzah to Samaria. The city continued to be occupied until the Assyrian invasion. This is thus again consistent with the Biblical account.


There is in general a lack of evidence for what was happening in Israel and Syria in the 11th and 10th centuries BC. We have very little writing from the time period and region, and the major powers were inactive at this time.

Before 1990, the minimalists took this lack of evidence as an indication that the stories of Saul, David and Solomon were a myth. However, this hypothesis has a poor track record as new evidence has been uncovered. The Tell-Dan stele showed that David existed. The minimalists claimed that he was then just a limited chieftain, again on the basis of no real positive evidence but only an argument from silence (and a failed attempt to redate the Iron Age chronology). Newer evidence at Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeifaya, and the Timmah valley have challenged that view, and suggest that there was an organised Kingdom at the time. Archaeological remains show the extent of Solomon's building works. As the Monarchy fell apart, we have evidence for Shishak's campaign, and Jeroboam's building works at Dan and Tirzah.

So, while we have little evidence either way, the evidence we do have is generally consistent with the Biblical account. While the Biblical accounts of David, Solomon and their successors is not proved through archaeology, there is nothing that contradicts it, and there are small hints which support it. The one possible exception I have found might be the situation at Bethel, where the archaeological report is unclear. However, the identification between Bethel and Beitin is unproven, and the results of the dig at Beitin, which seems to have employed poor methodology, is disputed and cannot be considered conclusive.

Is God a failed Hypothesis? Part 18: The fall of the Israelite Kingdoms

Reader Comments:

Post Comment:

Some html formatting is supported,such as <b> ... <b> for bold text , < em>... < /em> for italics, and <blockquote> ... </blockquote> for a quotation
All fields are optional
Comments are generally unmoderated, and only represent the views of the person who posted them.
I reserve the right to delete or edit spam messages, obsene language,or personal attacks.
However, that I do not delete such a message does not mean that I approve of the content.
It just means that I am a lazy little bugger who can't be bothered to police his own blog.
Weblinks are only published with moderator approval
Posts with links are only published with moderator approval (provide an email address to allow automatic approval)

What is 6-9?